Boyz theatre critic Stephen Vowles caught up with Declan Bennett to have a chat about his new one-man show Boy Out The City which opens on 9th November at The Turbine Theatre.
What inspired you to create the show?
I essentially spent six months on my own during lockdown because me and my boyfriend escaped London just before the autumn in 2020 and moved to this beautiful, idyllic countryside village where we knew no one and then he got a fucking job in Atlanta within two weeks of us being there.
So he left. I knew no one. We were in lockdown. Everywhere was shut and I was sort of losing it. I spent the next six months getting up at 5am and just wrote my nut off, mostly to keep my head from falling apart and then it slowly dawned on me that what I was writing was beginning to take the form of an extended monologue and Boy Out The City was born.
Paul Taylor Mills at the Turbine got in touch to see what I’d been up to and next thing, my director Nancy Sullivan jumped on board and the show started to grow some legs and now here we are! It’s definitely the most honest I’ve been with my work but also the funniest, which is nice to know I can still find the story funny despite wanting to crawl into a bottle of whiskey and tell the world to do one.
Did you find lockdown to be a productive time as a writer and actor?
Sort of. On one hand I have to say ‘yes’ cos I wrote a bloody one-man show so in that sense it was very productive but that was born out of sheer desperation to keep my mental health steady and safe.
On the other I have to say ‘no’ because the one thing I couldn’t do in lockdown was write songs or actually collaborate with other artists in an actual room for a very long time. As artists and actors we didn’t get furlough and we already sort of work from home in a way, particularly if you’re a writer.
There were no auditions, a few Zoom ones here and there, which were fucking horrendous and hope never happens again. I mean it’s nice auditioning in your boxers with a cup of tea but it’s not conducive to actually putting the effort in. I’m inspired by people and how I connect with them and my environment and just life in general but in lockdown it was hard to connect at all.
Do you thing today’s young men have to overcome difficult obstacles when it comes to their sexuality?
Since homophobia is still rife in this world and most definitely in the UK, I can only imagine it’s still really fucking tough for young men to accept themselves and their sexuality. I think today’s young men period have a fucking hard time because of the bullshit patriarchal world they’re raised in where they can’t show emotion, they have to be dominant, the need to show no fear and then people wonder why the suicide rates in young men are so high?
The system is rigged and not in their favour and when you throw being gay into the equation that’s a whole other emotional thing for a young man to have to deal with. I love that gay representation in popular culture is so much bigger and visible than it was when I was a kid but it’s still not safe for a lot of young queers and it’s up to all of us to dismantle micro aggressions that start at home and our schools. Create a safe space for young men to feel comfortable being who they truly are and then support them and each other when they go out into the world, hopefully with a confidence instilled in them by their families and peers.
It still won’t be easy but they’ll have a massive head start and won’t end up writing one-man shows when they turn 40 about how messed up their coming out was!
If you had a message to give to fellow young gay men in any major city in the UK, what would that be?
Cities are ace but they’re full on. Look after your nut. And check your nuts from time to time too while you’re at it. Take time out every now and again to listen to what you tell yourself on a daily basis about who you are. If you have a healthy connection to yourself then fucking high five, good on you. If you’re telling yourself some bullshit story about how you’re not good enough or you don’t deserve to be happy or you’re struggling to live your truth then reach out and TALK to someone.
I promise you, that critic in you is a prick and doesn’t deserve your energy. Talking and being vulnerable will pave the way to some awesome realisations about your fucking fantastic brilliant self. Trust me. I went through it and came out grand. I really hope my show will help other young lads accept who they are and not be afraid of their own heads and hearts.